Box Announces Box Notes, A Lightweight Editing Tool That Is An Opening Salvo Against Microsoft Office

Aaron Levie’s Box is a quickly growing, enterprise-facing file storage company that has accreted to itself enough in-house technical prowess to expand its feature footprint to new niches that fit on top of its core product, allowing it to become a vertically integrated digital information behemoth.

Or, in simpler verbiage, Box has built a small tool called Box Notes that brings, for the first time, file editing capabilities to its file storage solution.

This is at once small news, as it is small surprise, and important for the future, as it is only the first of what I expect to be a long string of upcoming tools that will allow Box to take full advantage of its role as the Holder Of Your Stuff. The argument here is simple: Box stores the files of 180,000 business clients. The editor closer to the file is generally the tool that wins usage. Therefore, Box, having moved files from the desktop to the cloud, has put itself in the position of providing document- and file-editing capabilities to companies large and small.

Innocuous in itself, but important as that’s been Microsoft’s domain, I think, since before I was actually born. That same dominion has also been curator of Microsoft’s bottom line for almost as long. Box is nibbling Microsoft’s pond and I doubt that Redmond is happy. Box will happily tell you that it isn’t out to get Office, but please.

I spoke to Levie and Box more generally about the tool, and they expect that a lightweight tool could be “Editor enough” for the average computing user. To quote the group, “most of today’s tools have overshot customer needs to solve [their] problems.”

So, Box Notes. The goal, and I paraphrase Box here, is to avoid fitting our work to the tools that we have, and instead fit our tooling to our needs. This is implicit knocking of Word and the rest of the Office suite that has become — through time and agglomeration of new bells, whistles and buttons unknown — a bit bloated.

That’s the goal of Box Notes, which is a simple real-time editing tool that combines collaborative typing with the Box file stack. If your company uses Box already, this will eventually (the beta will remain small for now) be an option for you and your colleagues to bang out simple documents. A feature called ‘NoteHead,’ think Facebook’s ChatHead feature for analog, let’s you see who is typing and where. It’s a simple editor.

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Importantly, Box Notes is as compliant with security standards as Box is itself. Therefore, where you once could Box, but perhaps not use a different cloud-based file editing tool, you can now Box Notes, as well. In certain health-care and financial environments, this matters.

Is Box Notes a competitor to Office? No. And it hardly challenges Google Docs. But as a first step in a longer journey it is actually quite interesting. You might not even like its first form (Box has a number of improvements in mind for its new baby, so perhaps patience is reasonable), but as indicative of what Box can build, and how it might matter later, Box Notes is worth keeping an eye on.

Box is on the road to going public, unless the entire business press is utterly cart-horsed. Therefore Box is demonstrating to future — and coming, frankly – investors that it has bigger plans than the increasingly commoditized world of cloud file storage. And that means diversified revenue streams and the like.

The reaction to this among the Current Powers must be nothing less than focused panic: If Box manages to wrest double-digit market share in the productivity space it will shove certain, and profitable gravity away from Microsoft’s grip. And Office incomes have long been key dollar inflows that allow Microsoft to experiment and lose money when it needs to (Bing, Surface, Windows Phone).

For now, you can sign up for the closed beta of BoxNotes here.

Top Image Credit: Robert Scoble